For many of us, the holidays are an exciting, happy time, as visions of family get-togethers, gift exchanges and sugar plum fairies dance in our heads. But for many seniors, who may be facing the holidays without a spouse or other loved ones, the holidays can be of time of sadness and even depression. Additionally, poor health or chronic pain, much more prevalent in the elderly, can dampen holiday spirits. Seeing others taking part in traditions that they no longer can may exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Tips to Help Have a Happy Holiday
Adjust Your Expectations
Recognize that this holiday doesn’t have to be like ones in the past. Honor those traditions you can and be open to creating new ones. For example, if you can’t be with your loved ones in person, find new ways to celebrate together, such as Skyping, sending videos, and emailing. If you can’t manage decorating the house by yourself, bring out a few ornaments or holiday mementos and create a centerpiece for your dining room table. By adjusting your attitude, you can still find ways to celebrate the season.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
If you’ve recently lost a spouse or other loved one, recognize that feelings of sadness and grief are normal and appropriate. Don’t force yourself to be happy simply because you think it’s expected. If someone asks how you’re doing, be honest. You obviously don’t want to dampen the spirits of others, but saying something like “I love the holidays, but this one’s going to be hard without Peter around” will let people know you understand their excitement and why you may not be sharing those feelings this year.
Reach Out to Someone
If you’re feeling isolated and lonely, seek out friends and family. If they aren’t available, find out what community, religious or other social events are happening where you live. Connecting with others is one of the best ways to combat depression and loneliness.
Volunteering is an excellent way to meet new people and lift your spirits and opportunities are plentiful around the holidays – consider going to a senior living community and talking with the people there. Volunteering for a cause you believe in not only introduces you to new people, it provides people with a sense of purpose. If you’re not sure how to start, visit volunteer.gov and look for opportunities in your area.
Use the holidays as an excuse to do something you’ve always wanted to do, like a “spa day” or seeing a new destination. Being in a new place can provide one with a new outlook on life without the constant reminders of how things used to be. Additionally, don’t abandon your wellness routines, such as exercising, eating well, and getting a good night’s sleep. Maintaining your healthy habits will stave off depression.
Helping a Loved One
If you know of a loved one who is depressed, the best thing you can do is to be available for them – as a sympathetic ear, to help with daily tasks that may seem overwhelming, to take them to medical appointments or to an event they’ll enjoy. Get educated on their specific diagnosis or help them seek treatment. Just knowing that they have someone to lean on can help ease their depression and serve as a springboard for healing.
By making some adjustments and seeking the company of others, the holidays can still be a time of renewal and joy.